More than 100 Hong Kong pro-democracy activists gathered on Wednesday to protest Beijing at the Landmark Atrium mall in Central, a ritzy business and retail district, chanting pro-democracy slogans. This gathering of pro-democracy activists was in spite of social distancing rules that prohibit gatherings of more than four people.
The demonstrators sang a protest anthem, “Glory to Hong Kong,” and displayed signs that read “Free Hong Kong, Revolution now” and “Hong Kong Independence.” There was one pro-democracy activists who hung a banner cursing Hong Kong police and their families.
“The protests had calmed down previously because of the coronavirus, but now we must step up and let the world know that we have not given up,” said Mich Chan, who works in the legal field. “We’re still fighting for what we fought for last year.”
It was during the recent coronavirus lockdown in Hong Kong that law enforcement enacted a mass arrest campaign, sweeping up at least 14 pro-democracy activists who had participated in last year's protests against pro-Beijing government in Hong Kong and interference from Chinese mainland authorities.
Arrests included Martin Lee, 81-year-old activist and former lawmaker as well as activists Albert Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan, and Au Nok-hin. Police also arrested media Jimmy Lai, a wealthy entrepreneur who founded the Apple Daily local newspaper was also rounded up and arrested.
The move was condemned by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who tweeted out support for Lee, a long time friend.
For this support, Kenney was chastised by the Chinese consulate general in Calgary.
The statement from Chinese officials read: “No one stays out of the law. Ignoring the facts and openly advocating for the rioters can only undermine the rule of law, which is not in Canada’s own interests.” The statement called for “local politicians to abide by the basic norms governing international relations… and immediately stop interfering in China’s internal affairs.”
The protests that ignited in early 2019, in response to an extradition bill that was introduced in April, which would have sent suspected criminals from Hong Kong to the mainland of China, subjecting them to arbitrary detention and unfair trials.
Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong, withdrew the bill on September 4, but refused to entertain the four other demands set by the protestors. Lam was elected with a majority 777 by a 1,194-member appointed Election Committee in 2017, and was the Beijing favoured candidate.
In addition to the withdrawal of the extradition bill, protestors demand the establishment of an independent inquiry into police misconduct so that those pro-democracy activists who were brutalized by police would have recourse that involved a non-biased investigation.
They demand that pro-democracy activists are no longer characterized as "rioters," as the latter classification opens them up to specific kinds of punishments and sentences under law. The Chinese consulate in Calgary used this term to describe Lee and the others when it rebuked Kenney, as well.
Pro-democracy activists want those among them who were arrested to be released, and the want Lam's resignation and the opening up of suffrage and rights to self-determination opened up for Hong Kong residents to elect their own representatives.
Beijing had previously discarded the protestors as no more than a small group of “rioters” who like to cause trouble and have no public support, but the November election results revealed a different story.
Following the 2015 election, all district councils were under the control of pro-Beijing candidates. But in November 2019, more than 3 million Hong Kongers turned out to cast their vote, setting a historical record high. The pro-democracy side gained a majority in 17 of 18 district councils, claiming 347 seats, while the pro-Beijing camp only took 60 seats, with the remaining 45 spots going to independent candidates.
The Chinese Communist Party expelled American journalists in March, presumably over conflicts with their coronavirus coverage.
It was on March 18 that China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that press credentials would be revoked for all US nationals who were under the employ of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post. Over a dozen reporters who left the country will no longer be allowed in Hong Kong and Macau, although they were welcomed by Taiwan.
Foreign journalists, including Americans, reported increasing harassment from Beijing in recent years. Some journalists said they had been followed, arrested, “roughed up,” and threatened with expulsion leading up to the announcement.
The most impacted victims of the expulsion of journalists are likely the Chinese people. Josh Chin, one of the three Wall Street Journal reporters expelled from China early this year, tweeted that when local Chinese officials in Xinjiang detained him last year, an official told him privately, “I am glad that the foreign media is in China, how else would we know what’s going on here?”
Since there is no press in China that is not state-run media, the Chinese people are reliant on foreign media to learn what is going on in their own country. The foreign media is also the only outlet some Chinese have in order to make their voices heard and to help press for political and social change.
Organizers in Hong Kong are planning further protests in May, focusing on a major march on July 1. This marks the day when Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997.
While the restrictions imposed due to coronavirus have prevented protestors from gathering over the past few months, they are again returning to the streets of Hong Kong to claim their rights. The city’s daily increase in virus cases have dropped to single digits over the past two weeks.
Adrian Wong, a Hong Kong based banker, said he was willing to protest despite the prospect of falling ill with the coronavirus.
“I am concerned about the virus but I think I still have to come out, so that Hong Kong’s people won’t forget what happened in the last year,” Wong said. “The violence of the Hong Kong police force is destroying Hong Kong, and the five demands have not been met yet.”
While the protests began over the extradition policy, that has fueled increased demands for democracy, transparency, and liberty for Hong Kongers. The group of protestors is not limited by occupation, age, or social standing. Those who are fighting for their rights come from all quadrants of society. Grandmothers and students stand side by side with bankers and shop keepers demanding recognition and voting rights.
The coronavirus kept pro-democracy activists at bay, but after the stealth arrests earlier this month, and the lifting of restrictions as life slowly returns to some semblance of normalcy, the promise of continued protest for liberty and voting rights is in the spring air.